When You're Scared of Things that Pose No Danger


Every so often I find it helpful to put myself in the position of life coaching client instead of coach. Then I can pose the question, “If you were the coach, what would you advise in this situation?”

That is how I came to be taking literature classes at New York University this semester and last summer, all because I heard myself say in a discussion about what I’d do if I won the lottery, “get a masters in literature.” It prompted me to wonder why I would wait for a windfall to read great writing in a structured environment. Taking action on that has changed my life tremendously.

More recently I had an actor friend ask if I’d accompany her to a theatre experience in New York called Sleep No More. It didn’t sound appealing, but I read some reviews – all positive if not glowing – and realized what came up for me was fear and resistance to the unknown. Especially when I saw the photo of a man sitting in a blood-stained tub in The New York Times piece about it.

So here I was again, playing coach to me as client. What would I advise a client who had fear and resistance around something that posed no danger? It’s a no-brainer -- Get thee there. It brings to mind a directive in Julia Cameron’s classic book The Artist’s Way where she recommends doing the exercises at the end of each chapter, especially those you most resist.

But back to Sleep No More. It’s set in the McKittrick Hotel, a luxury hotel that was shut down in 1939, and has been “brought back to life” in this space. Here’s a bit from the summary on the website: “Audiences move freely through a transporting world at their own pace, choosing their own path through the story, immersed in the most unique theatrical experience in the history of New York.”

Let me add that it’s dark in this immense set consisting of six stories. Very, very dark. For me, frighteningly dark. And that was only the cavernous entrance to get to the 1940s style lounge, a sort of staging area for each group to be given a mask that must be worn throughout. There was also no talking permitted. Once released into the dark “hotel” it is up to each individual to explore to her desired level; friends are separated from the start.

Prior to getting started, I told my friend there was a good chance I wasn’t leaving the lounge, but that she should take her time and enjoy. I was already paralyzed by the dark entrance and was not at all happy about my decision to come. She tried to talk to me rationally, but I was in another dimension of emotional upheaval. Once she got started and was off to the hotel, I took a deep breath and made my way in.

The gentleman who shepherded us onto an elevator and distributed our masks left us in the cool darkness with this final comment – “Fortune favors the bold.” Well, I love that Virgil quote so much that I had it inscribed on my iPad. Onward, Nancy, I thought.

The fear left me and I began to make my way through dark rooms, essentially “sets” – a private eye’s office, a living room, a banquet room, a cemetery. When I happened on the banquet room, there was a scene beginning and actors were playing out this feast in slow motion. I was amused, but not engaged. That continued to be my feeling as I wandered from floor to floor, in and out of rooms.

I found myself making an effort to like it, understand it, do it. To stay in the moment. But ultimately I realized it wasn’t my cup of tea and that’s OK. What was especially liberating was knowing my friend was off having her own experience and I didn’t have to keep up a rosy façade in order to respect her interaction with it.

Interestingly, what popped into my mind was an untitled work of art by Felix Gonzalez-Torres that I had seen at the Art Institute of Chicago recently. It was a big pile of candy on the floor. Much like Sleep No More, I recognize that it’s art, I just don’t respond to it.

Give me some Louise Bourgeois, Claude Monet, Alexander McQueen, Annie Leibovitz and my whole body will respond. That’s the beauty of cultural experiences, right? To enhance, inspire, push our limits, show us who we are.

After a while I decided to leave the main part of the “hotel” and wait for my friend in the lounge, but escaping was no easy task. All part of the allure for some, but it gave me another moment of anxious pause. Finally a woman in a black mask parted a drape and let me through to the lounge.

Upon learning I was feeling a bit stuffy from an oncoming cold, the delightful bartender made me a tropical pineapple-orange concoction with fresh fruit. I sat at a table just as a jazz trio was setting up and soon I was listening to Lola Baxter (played by Annie Goodchild) sing 1940s era swing standards reminiscent of what my parents listened to growing up. Her souped up version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was so good my feet were tapping like crazy. I told her later it made my night.

My friend came out hours after I did, called the experience surreal, and regaled me with her thoughtful take as we walked the vibrant New York City streets on our way home.

I was happy to have gone and pleased my inner coach advised me so well.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.